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Gary Younge
At last they want out

It's little and it's late but I guess it's a start: a call by leading Democrats to pull out US troops from Iraq by the end of the year. The letter that has been signed by both Harry Reid, the Senate leader, and Nancy Pelosi, leader of the House of Representatives, and 10 others attempts to cement a consensus within the party on the war issue. Hillary Clinton is a notable absence. Her reluctance may be wise. For such a big issue the letter is weaker on crucial details. Backing a "phased redeployment" of troops, it suggests beginning a withdrawal by the end of the year but gives no indication of when that pull-out might end.

This feels like the worst of all worlds. It is difficult to see how or why Americans would favour this rather than George Bush's call to stay the course or the push for a timetable for withdrawal. Given that most Americans and an overwhelming number of Democrats favour withdrawal, it's a shame that this is one of the few issues where Democrats don't want to follow the polls. Their concerns about organisation on the ground in the run-up to November's mid-terms are understandable but they have to give Democratic voters something to vote for when they get to the ballot box.

None the less, it is a shift, however hesitant, in the right direction. Meanwhile, Donald Rumsfeld extended the tours of 3,500 soldiers and plans to add 5,000 more to Baghdad. The Senate primary race between Joe Lieberman and Ned Lamont in Connecticut shows this is the issue that motivates the voters - the entry point to the broader question of what direction the country is going in.

The fact that Lamont is even in with a chance against an incumbent of 18 years tells us which side the Democratic base is on. The leadership's response explains partly why Democratic success in November's mid-terms may prove to be a false dawn.

In 1994, the Republicans followed their base to fight the Democrats; over the last five years it seems the Democrats have been fighting their base and following the Republicans.

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No Place Like Home – A Black Briton’s Journey through the American South
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